Sudan: The Crimes and the Heroism

The current issue of Newsweek brings word that charity workers operating in Darfur are being systematically assaulted, raped, and otherwise harassed in an effort to drive them from the war-torn Western region of Sudan. These attacks – on such venerable outfits as Medecins sans Frontieres, Oxfam, and Action Contre la Faim – are taking place in territory controlled by the Sudanese government and its allies. A dozen staffers from foreign NGOs have been killed in just the past six months, more than in the previous two years. And last week, 14 U.N. agencies working in Darfur issued a stark warning that “the humanitarian community cannot indefinitely assure the survival of the population in Darfur if insecurity continues.”

The bottom line is and remains that the current level of US inaction is morally unacceptable. We will see if this international disgrace gets any attention in the President’s State of the Union speech tonight. There are no pleasant options when it comes to Darfur. Which makes it imperative that innovative thinking on the matter – like the creation of a genocide prevention division within the US Army, proposed by Michael O’Hanlon in a recent issue of The New Republic – receive attention.

It is also worth drawing attention to a fascinating article in a recent number of The Chronicle of Higher Education about the Ahfad University for Women, Sudan’s only all-female institution of higher learning. As The Chronicle‘s far-flung foreign correspondent Megan Lindow reports, Ahfad was established as an elementary school in 1907 by a broad-minded soldier-turned-merchant named Sheikh Babiker Badri, who wanted to educate his 13 daughters at a time when most considered the idea deeply shameful. The institution has pioneered women’s education in Sudan for a century, weathering successive military coups and resisting vigorous state clampdowns on higher education.

Most remarkable is the heroic role Ahfad played during the near-interminable North-South Civil War that convulsed Sudan for years. Although the school is situated in the North, Ahfad lecturers would travel to the South and recruit promising women who they felt would be able to use a university education to bring benefits back to their beleaguered communities. Similarly, in Darfur (where most of the aid workers are hired local help) Ahfad graduates have been integral in getting aid delivered to those in need.

I present it as an optimistic anomaly on an otherwise bleak horizon.

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3 Comments on “Sudan: The Crimes and the Heroism”

  1. HW Says:

    Great post, Evan. A reminder of the need for solidarity with those who fight against such overwhelming odds, however rare they may appear to be.

  2. Dan Goldman Says:

    Darfur got a shout-out in the SOTU, but so what? I suppose it’s better than no mention of it, but meaningless since it won’t result in any U.S. action in the region. It’s a nice thing about the school tho.

  3. ERG Says:

    Dan, right you are. But there is a significance to pure rhetoric. In fact, I believe Bush’s comment was something to effect of raising the consciousness of the world about the genocide in Darfur. Just having the president mention it in the biggest speech of the year is worth something (though surely not enough).


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